Overcrowding in Prisons: A Health Risk in Need of (Re)consideration

By le Roux-Kemp, Andra | Health Law Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Overcrowding in Prisons: A Health Risk in Need of (Re)consideration


le Roux-Kemp, Andra, Health Law Review


Introduction

It is inherent to prisoners' punishment that they are delivered into the power of the State and that their autonomy and rights to freedom and choice are severely limited. Prisoners are also amongst the most vulnerable in society, however, and "a civilized and humane society demands that when the State takes away the autonomy of an individual by imprisonment, it must assume the obligation [to provide and ensure] conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity." (1) This includes that prisoners are treated in a humane manner, that their right to dignity is preserved, and that their health needs are met.

This commentary will consider two cases: a decision of South Africa's Constitutional Court, and a Russian case heard by the European Court of Human Rights. In both cases it was argued that the conditions of overcrowding in the prison/detention facility had a direct and negative impact on the inmates' health and well-being. The South African case of Lee v Minister of Correctional Services (2) was the first Constitutional Court case in which it was argued that overcrowding in a prison facility adversely affects prisoners' health rights. And, while the European Court of Human Rights has decided a number of cases on how overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities infringes on inmates' rights to privacy and human dignity, (3) the case of Kalashnikov v Russia (4) was also the first case in which the health risks of overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities were highlighted, and it was demanded that the relevant authorities take responsibility to ensure that prisoners'/detainees' health rights are met and their right to human dignity preserved.

These two cases should furthermore not be seen in isolation. Overcrowding in prisons and other detention facilities is a widespread problem and it is also a reality for the Correctional Service of Canada. The media recently reported that Canada's "prison population has reached an all-time high" and warned that the possibility exists for Canadian prisoners to hold the government liable for "failing to follow its own laws to provide adequate care and protection for inmates." (5) The Office of the Correctional Investigator also reported in its 2011-2012 Annual Report that the prison population will continue to increase as the effects of recent legislative and policy reforms, which include the Truth in Sentencing Act, Tackling Violent Crime Act and the Safe Streets and Communities Act, start to materialise in terms of prison population growth. (6)

The cases reviewed here are thus relevant to contemporary issues facing correctional services in Canada and other jurisdictions. Both decisions emphasise that States have the responsibility to ensure that prisoners/detainees live in conditions that preserve their human dignity and meet their basic health rights and entitlements.

The Court Rulings

South Africa

In Lee v Minister of Correctional Services (7) the plaintiff, Dudley Lee, was detained in a South African prison, Pollsmoor, (8) near Cape Town, for four and a half years from November 1999 to 27 September 2004. In June 2003, whilst incarcerated, he fell ill and was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). The plaintiff was eventually acquitted of all criminal charges against him and instituted an action for damages against the Minister of Correctional Services (9) on the basis that the prison authorities' failure to take preventative and precautionary measures against the spread of TB in Pollsmoor prison caused him to become infected with TB.

In Pollsmoor prison, the approved accommodation is 1619 inmates but the lock-up total during the plaintiff's incarceration was as much as 3052, constituting a 189% occupation of the facility. (10) Prisoners furthermore spent up to 23 hours a day in their overcrowded prison cells and cigarette smoke filled the cells and corridors. (11) But it was not only the prison that was crowded; whenever the plaintiff went to court he was transported together with many other prisoners in a truck or van and they were then placed in cells which were "jam packed" with prisoners waiting their turn to appear in court. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Overcrowding in Prisons: A Health Risk in Need of (Re)consideration
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.